LANGLEY — Some random thoughts and remembrances as I pack the 2021-22 B.C. high school boys and girls basketball season into my over-stuffed memory banks and look ahead to the game’s off-season hibernation:
To those who pay attention to our early pre-season polls, I have taken great pride in not only producing the Quad-A poll the last number of years, but in also acting as the liaison for the tier’s various pollsters.
I put up my hand, however, to admit that I acted a little too early in getting out the Top 10s for next season.
As the esteemed Ken Dockendorf, our dean of all things B.C. boys basketball, has since informed, we should expect movement of key programs from 1A to 2A and from 3A to 4A once final numbers are done.
That said, I am sure all will agree that the No. 1 thing that rankings accomplish better than anything is the ability to keep conversation about our great game alive and well, even when teams aren’t playing.
So while you can expect some changes, there is still plenty to talk about until our next season tips off in November.
Well, the rankings are out for next season, and there is no better place to begin to understand where the development of some of B.C.’s best young talent is than to watch it under the crucible of the championship side of the draw.
My top three teams for next season is as good a place as any to start.
No. 1 Semiahmoo excites the senses for many reasons, not the least of which are its two rising Grade 11s in guard Torian Lee and forward Cole Bekkering who represent so much of the team’s ability to play with an unrelenting mindset.
Add rising seniors in the 6-foot-7 Marcus Floares and wing Maddox Budiman, and another rising Grade 11 in guard Andre Juco and you have five of your top six in minutes-played returning from a team that went all the way to the championship final.
They will be tough to be if they can keep the same uncluttered mindset they brought into these most recent championships.
No. 2 Vancouver College loses Cole Cruz-Dumont, yet has enough of its returning core, led by the unstoppable rising senior guard Mikyle Malabuyoc.
The returning Irish core is also B.C. tourney-tested with the likes of fellow rising seniors Mikey Joseph and Charles Menard, and rising Grade 11 Isaiah Bias.
Yet its wildcard is the bounty of rising 11s headed the senior team’s way by virtue of its undefeated junior varsity season.
The 6-foot-8 forward Roko Maric and point guard Vince Velasquez lead that group.
No. 3 Burnaby South?
The two-time defending champs are losing two of the best they’ve produced in this recent gold-leaf era in post-forward Karan Aujla and guard Jimmy Zaborniak.
While its collective approach to the game has already been cemented by thrice-ringed head coach Mike Bell, the Rebels still need to find their own identity, and it’s going to be based on which returning player(s) prove ready to take the biggest step forward.
The most likely may well be 6-foot-5 rising forward Armaan Hehar, who while not tasked this season as the Rebels’ primary interior presence, nonetheless showcased a jump-shooting game beyond the arc which could make him a uniqueinside-out talent.
Toughness will need to come from the able 6-foot-2 rising senior Andy Chen who is able to play bigger than his listed height.
And then the new piece of the engine arrives in rising Grade 11 Lordrikk Gutierrez, who while measuring in at just under six-feet, could wind up being the modern-day version of Charles Barkley in the B.C. high school basketball world.
In leading his team to the B.C. championship final game, the barrel-chested, ever-smiling Gutierrez proved himself to be one of those tough-minded, get-the-job-done types who consistently punched above his weight class, no matter the opposition.
Finding the best way to utilize him will be a key to the Rebels’ success.
FROM CHERYL TO KIERA
One of my favourite memories of the 2022 girls tournament is sure to be my decision to throw the headset on for the start of the second half of the Quad-A bronze medal final between Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Huskies and the hometown Walnut Grove Gators.
To be completely honest, I had an entire day’s worth of provincial championship finals to broadcast and my first thought was to simply save my voice.
I instead convinced myself that I needed to warm it up, and thus jumped right into the action of a game between two incredibly talented teams… a contest eventually won 82-67 by the Gators.
Now, you just need to watch her once, and Kiera Pemberton becomes a player you’re likely to ever forget.
And as the second half progressed, it became apparent that the 6-foot Grade 11 guard was on her way to pretty special day.
It’s hard to list too many past B.C. girls high school stars with the ability to get to the rim with the consistency that Pemberton does.
Her dextrous dribble-drive and her acute sense in recognizing the sudden availability of sliver-like lanes is already next-level plus.
Amd no, the latter is not to say she shies away from contact, because she invites it.
Yet her ability to glide while walking through rain drops which capped by her tourney-finale performance.
The 48 points she scored that day tied her for the fourth-highest scoring game in tournament’s 72-year history with none other than the former Killarney Cougar superstar Cheryl Kelsey.
And, Pemberton’s 167 total points allowed her to break the all-time four-game tournament scoring record of 156 points Kelsey set as a senior in the 1980 championships.
That’s 42 years ago, so of course, the underclassmen Pemberton was unaware of her predecessor.
“No, I’ve never heard of her,” admitted Pemberton, already set to join North Dakota following her 2022-23 campaign.
When told what she had just accomplished, she replied: “Are you serious? Oh my gosh. I am so happy.”
In this era of three-point shooting, Pemberton is decidedly old-school.
She hit one trey in her 48-point capper, and she hit three three-pointers the entire tournament.
Instead, she hit 32 total free throws in 43 trips to the stripes, and did the rest inside the arc.
“I had no idea how many points I had,” she admitted after head coach Darren Rowell pulled her from the festivities not too soon after she reached 48 points. “I was just trying to win.”
To her, in fact, the only thing that mattered was hugging her senior teammates — fellow back-court running mate Fania Taylor, as well as Emma Slade and Hope Nystrom — who were playing the final games of their high school careers.
“She’s been an incredibly kind and humble kid who is such an awesome teammate and a superstar so I think that is a really unique set of characteristics,” began Rowell. “She has the killer instinct obviously, but she is just a kind kid who is nice to everyone.”
Rowell’s oldest daughter Tavia, sits second all-time on the single-game tourney record list with 54 points in 2017. Salmon Arm’s Camille Thompson is third with 52 in 1989. The all-time record holder is Faye Zwarych who scored 55 in 1980.
HUSKIES ON A MISSION… FROM DEEP
No official research done here, but two players you may not have heard a lot about distinguished themselves as perhaps the best one-two three-point shooting pair in Triple A’s eight-year history (within the current four-tier parametres).
Wil Zylyk and Xander Hay, hoops brothers since the fifth grade and six-year teammates at Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission (when they started at OKM, the school ran grades 7-12) opened the B.C. Triple-A tournament, by their standards, ice cold in a 75-64 loss to the MEI Eagles.
Zylyk hit two triples and Hay just one in that game, but from that point forward, the pair combined to hit 41 over the next three games, all wins, for an average of just under 10 per as the Huskies managed a respectable ninth-place finish.
“Those two guys are always cheering on the other when they do well and that is so great to see,” said OKM head coach Lisa Nevoral. “They each had games before provincials where they hit nine threes in a game.”
Zylyk, who hit 26 triples in the four games, had what might have been the most outstanding single quarter of play throughout the nine provincial boys and girls championships contended at the LEC over 12 of 15 days from Feb. 26-March 12.
In the Huskies’ third game, a surprising 102-60 win over Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies, Zylyk hit eight three-pointers in the first quarter, had 10 by the half, and en route to a 39-point outing, finished with 11.
He also hit seven treys (7-of-15) as part of a 32-point outing in an 83-71 win over Sir Charles Tupper in which OKM closed out the game clock on a 13-0 run.
Zylyk then finished with six triples and 32 points in a 108-91 win over Courtenay’s Mark Isfeld Ice in the ninth-place game.
While Hay had been much quieter than Zylyk over the first three days of the tournament, he exploded for 47 points against the Ice, including nine triples.
On the tournament, Zylyk averaged 29.0 ppg and Hay 25.3 ppg.
TEMWA AND KYE, FIRE FOR ICE
Temwa Mtawali, the 6-foot senior guard with the Ice was just that over the course of the boys Triple A tournament: Ice.
Two seasons ago as a Grade 10, Mtawali averaged 28.3 ppg at B.C.’s, the third-highest average in newly-positioned tier’s seventh year of existence.
This season, he returned to average exactly 30 points per game, scoring 120 in four games, including 29 against St. Thomas More, 31 against Okanagan Mission and 40 against Timberline.
Again, no records have been kept, yet eight seasons into Triple-A being the province’s second-largest tier, Mtawali’s 233 points in eight games for a career B.C. tourney average of 29.1 ppg deserves your recognition, not just because it’s a fat number, but because he did it first as a Grade 10, and then after the cancelled season, as a Grade 12.
And if that wasn’t enough, Mtawali’s teammate, 6-foot-3 senior guard Kye Kotapski-Tinga, averaged 29.8 points over his four games this season.
Again, overall tournament stats were not calculated and I didn’t pour over the 220 or so score sheets from all of the senior boys and girls B.C. championship games played at the LEC the past few weeks.
It doesn’t take, much, however, to put an historic accent on a pair of teammates who each averaged just shy of 30 ppg over the course of this year’s tournament.
Who am I excited to watch next season?
This is dangerous because omissions wind up generating a plethora of e-mails, but I am going to mention a quartet that come to mind because I happened to watch their games this past season on multiple occasions and they wound up leaving something of an indelible impression.
Again, try not to slag the old guy because a name or two was not mentioned. I tend to forget. It’s something I do one heck of a lot of these days!
With all that in mind:
Kiera Pemberton (Walnut Grove) — See story above.
Avery Sussex (Riverside) — On B.C.’s best team, she is its best player, that rare firestarter whose efforts can change the entire momentum of a game. And as a Grade 11, we will see more of her personality… a player who leads with her humility but whose charm comes in the balance she strikes between her humanity and her gritty line-in-the-sand competitiveness.
Dilveer Randhawa (Abbotsford) — He is all blue-collar, yet he is a terrific scorer, too. On a team filled with talented seniors, the 6-foot-4 Randhawa showed enough over his first senior varsity season that you could argue he became the team’s barometre as a Grade 11. He’s a bull with touch and intangibles.
Irish Coquia (St. Patrick’s) — What Sussex is to Riverside, the rising senior Coquia is to St. Pat’s, and he showed it by literally taking matters into his own hands and delivering a B.C. Triple-A title to the Celtics last Saturday. He carries an energy and a presence that few others do.
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